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Libraries Need to Talk about J.K. Rowling

by Danielle Ellis on 2020-06-30T09:27:29-07:00 in Diversity, Book List | Comments

Libraries Need to Talk About J.K. Rowling

J.K. Rowling has been a staple on library shelves and in our homes since the late 1990s, when her first Harry Potter book was published. Today you can find Harry Potter themed businesses, blogs, library programs, and consumer goods all around the country, and identifying with your Hogwarts house is almost as commonplace as identifying with an astrological sign or a Myers-Briggs personality type. Rowling has done some positive things with her rise to fame, like founding a charity, but she has also used her fame to promote hateful and transphobic ideas. And since libraries strive to be inclusive spaces, we need to discuss her behavior, why it’s harmful, and how to challenge those beliefs in library spaces.

Rowling’s vocalization of transphobia is nothing new. She wrote these views into some of her books, most notably in The Silkworm, the second book in her Cormoran Strike series she wrote under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. In this book Rowling creates a character named Pippa, a transgender woman that is often pitied, joked about, or criticized for the way she looks. At one point, other characters find out she is transgender and proceed to joke about her being raped in prison. Furthermore, Rowling’s chosen pseudonym, Robert Galbraith, is the same name as that of Tulane University’s anti-LGBTQ+ conversion therapy specialist in the 1970s, known for using electroshock therapy and other forms of torture on his gay, lesbian, and transgender patients.

But her transphobia unfortunately does not end with her books. Rowling has tweeted in defense of a woman who was fired for transphobic behavior, she has called transgender women “men in dresses” and transgender men “girls lost to the patriarchy” on social media, and she has downright ignored the existence of nonbinary individuals. Most recently, she posted a 3,700-word essay on her website defending and doubling down on these beliefs.

These beliefs are rooted in prejudice and a lack of understanding of transgender individuals. Painting transgender woman as “men in dresses” creates the idea that trans people are trying to trick the general public, when that is simply not the case. Similarly, calling trans men girls that have lost their way implies trans people do not know what is best for them. Ignoring nonbinary identities may spare them from her criticism, but it also robs them of representation and furthers her goal of misrepresenting transgender identities. This rhetoric is not only hurtful, it is directly harmful as it creates the idea that trans people should not be able to make decisions about their own needs and what they can do with their bodies. It also implies trans people exist to hurt or fool others, which fuels the bigotry that leads to trans women, and particularly trans women of color, being murdered at a higher rate than almost any other demographic. This can be seen in real time, as less than a week after it was published her essay was quoted on the Senate floor by an Oklahoma Senator that pushed to block a vote on an LGBTQ+ Equality Act bill.

While it may seem like these are only her own opinions and they should be separated from her books and the library’s support of the Harry Potter universe, unfortunately this is not possible. Buying licensed Harry Potter supplies for programs, highlighting Rowling’s books on displays, and recommending her work to readers gives her more money and her voice more recognition. This doesn’t mean we get rid of all her books at the library or never have a Harry Potter themed program again – libraries are anti-censorship after all – but we should be thinking twice before actively promoting her works over other items in the collection. Suggesting Rowling’s books to patrons promotes the overwhelmingly white, cisgender, heteronormative worlds she creates, like that of Harry Potter, where she declined to write any LGBTQ+ characters (instead claiming some characters like Dumbledore are gay, but making no representation apparent in the books or movies themselves) and almost no characters of color. Going forward, libraries must be conscious of Rowling and other authors’ negative messaging and find books to promote that are more diverse, with better representation, and find authors that support the patrons that libraries seek to serve if they hope to create a space that is inclusive and accepting.

To get started, check out this list of books for adults and all ages full of magic and adventure from authors other than J.K. Rowling.

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